That Perfect Red - Not YetSaturday, August 16, 2014
Some who read these pages might know that I have a long time project of taking pictures of people, mostly friends, who represent many professions here in Vancouver. I photograph them all wearing my mother’s red Mexican rebozo or shawl. My mother made an exploratory trip to Mexico around 1952 and came back with it to our then home in Buenos Aires. Since then I can remember the many occasions my mother wore it. She had different ways of wearing it. I was one way for Mass, another for a fancy party or a cocktail and in a completely different way when she wore it to keep her warm. She died in 1972 and when we moved to Vancouver in 1975 the rebozo has been kept as a treasure in a Mexican chest made of Olinalá wood in the Mexican state of Guerrero. The material of the rebozo is rough and nobody I know has been able to tell me if it is rough wool or cotton or a blend. Of the brilliant red I have always thought it to be some Mexican native plant dye.
One of the rules for those who pose with the red shawl is that they must write an essay on anything. I welcome them doing this shortly after they pose as for many the shawl has provided quick and wonderful inspiration.
It is also amazing how my over 40 individual red shawlers have managed to find a perfectly unique way of wearing it.
But at least ten of my red shawlers have not written their essays. They include Bill Millerd, Christopher Gaze, Bruno Freschi, Karen Gerbrecht and Artemis Gordon.
I do not post their pictures until their essay is submitted. They can write about anything and the only person who asked me for some sort of established length (I mentioned 500) wrote more on purpose. And of course anybody who knows George Bowering would understand!
Now I feel that I can post this delightful Fuji Instant Colour Film picture (I scanned the peeled negative which I had to bleach to get rid of the accompanying gunk) of Katie Huisman. She is a seriously talented Vancouver art photographer. I think I am allowed (after all I set my rules here) to do this as I am not posting the actual real film (film transparency) but the Fujiroid.
I first met Ms. Huisman at Focal Point where we both taught. She was a quiet, pretty young woman who always wore a beret. I made it a point to berate (!!) her every time she showed up at school when I was sitting in the school lounge. I once remember asking her if she wore it to bed. She never reacted in a nasty way (it certainly was her prerogative to do so) and just took it with that “I will not reveal anything” smile of hers.
Our first real communication came when she asked me if I knew anybody who would provide a garden where she could take her students to shoot some nude for her class. At the time, my friend, architect Abraham Rogatnick was dying (we did not then know that he was giving up on treating his prostate cancer). Rogatnick lived around the corner from Focal Point. I asked Rogatnick who immediately assented. As sick as he was he peeked from his window as Huisman and class took their pictures.
It was only a few months ago that I asked Huisman to pose for me in the shawl. She did but as you can see the essay has not been forthcoming.
But something happened to me in the last few days. I remembered a book that had been given to me years ago by my free-lance writer friend (who has exquisite taste) Kerry McPhedran.
Chances are that the red dye of the rebozo is not vegetable but it comes from an insect called Dactylopius coccus or the cochineal that is found mostly in Mexico. Hernán Cortés as soon as he had subdued the Indians of the State of Veracruz (he had yet to vanquish the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan) he sent a delegation of Totonacs and booty to Seville. From there they went to Charles V (Charles the First of Spain) who was 19 but saw real red when he saw it. The rest is history and after gold, silver and chocolate, Mexican cochineal dye became one of the most valuable items of the new world.
It would seem that Kerry McPhedran was only partially right about my ability to make connections. It has taken me 9 years to make it.
Katie Huisman no longer wears her beret.
It is the nature of Fuji instant colour peels to not be accurate in their display of colour. That perfect red will have to wait for the accompanying essay.
Red shawl project
Red shawl project